The Temptation of Euthanasia
Theological conversations about euthanasia often concern concepts such as the relationship between suffering and spirituality. Yet, there is a related type of mental conflict, or suffering if you will, that receives little attention from theologians – that is the conflict between, wanting to live according to Catholic teachings, on the one hand, and the desire for the instant relief of suffering that euthanasia can bring, on the other hand.
This mental conflict is intensified by the quasi-moral legal status of euthanasia and by the ease of access to euthanasia services.
That said, it is salient to mention here that the temptation to relieve suffering is nothing to be ashamed of. We know from St Augustine and St Paul that Christians cannot always resist the temptation to go against their Christian duty – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
However, let us not avoid the issue here: Catholics are forbidden from requesting euthanasia.
This is clearly expressed in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s document, Declaration on Euthanasia. It is also of vital importance that Christians dissuade others from accepting euthanasia services. For the battle against euthanasia is one all Christians must join, not only the terminally ill and bishops.
Furthermore, it is worth stressing that Christians love each other profoundly when they help each other to live out their Christian vocations. However, this is a two-way street.
As mentioned above, Christians must help their terminally ill brothers and sisters to resist the powerful temptation of euthanasia to bring immediate relief of suffering. But also, the Christian who is terminally ill reminds his/her brothers and sisters that it is in alleviating the suffering of others that Christians conform their lives to Christ in his ministry to the infirmed.
Yet, let us not delude ourselves: suffering by its very nature is always tough, as are the demands of caring for the sick. Hence, the call on Christians to fight against euthanasia is demanding.
That said, the most credible means of helping people to resist the temptation of euthanasia is to give the terminally ill the reassurance that Christians will do all they can to live out their own Christian duty to alleviate pain when they can, to “carry each other’s burdens” when they cannot carry their own, and to always hope for moments of joy, even amidst great suffering.
Let us not forget: Christ’s ministry conquered opposition through love and service; not by way of fist-pumping battles – a mainstay of pro-life activism. Hence, we must strive to confront the evil of euthanasia as Christ confronted evil, that is, with a grounded awareness of the difficulties of the struggle to resist temptation, and with love that is not sentimental but, rather, is realized in Christian service. Indeed, this means of protesting against euthanasia is deeply spiritually formative for all involved.
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Gal. 6.2
Dr Virginia Miller is currently a Research fellow for the Public and Contextual Theology Research Centre, at Charles Sturt University,
Good article, the matter of euthanasia is not simply a theological debate to be won,not just a problem to be solved once and for all, but a series of tasks to be done, a series of relationships to be had with those coming to terms with their own mortality. To paraphrase John Donne’s comment: ‘No man is an island, entire of itself – every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main,… everyman’s death ‘engages’ me (and concerns me), because I am involved in mankind!’ We may not be able to have more than one vote against euthanasia, but we can pray for those drawn towards it like a dark whirlpool, and hope to help to them resist its influence.
Dr Miller seems not to have practiced medicine in such a way as to witness actual intolerable suffering. When seen, it is never forgotten, whether by medical professionals like myself or families.
There is nothing holy about suffering leading up to the end. It is appalling, relentless, unedifying and brutal.
To claim that relief is a “temptation” that one should somehow resist is cruel and unNecessary in the modern world.
Thank you for commenting on my article.
In response I think it is important to say that the article assumes that the reader is aware of the Congregation For the Doctrine of the Faith’s “Declaration on Euthanasia,” which is not as restrictive regarding end-of-life decisions as many people believe it to be. Indeed, there is an aspect of the teaching in the document that is not too far removed from some definitions of passive euthanasia – that is in the refusal of treatment that would only secure a burdensome prolongation of life. I am not here to debate this definitional distinction, but to say that the document is nuanced. Moreover, it is the teaching of the Catholic Church and there are people who want to live according to this teaching – even if they are often dismissed as being out of step with the modern world.